David Sassoli, the President of the European Parliament, has indicated that the European Parliament will resume its plenary sessions in the French city of Strasbourg from September. He confirmed that he had spoken to the Mayor of Strasbourg and the French EU Affairs Minister, who agreed to the resumption of the monthly sessions.
Back in March, the European Parliament decided to restrict its activities to limit the spread of the Coronavirus. In an unprecedented move, all of the plenary sessions since then have been held in Brussels. The level of risk was deemed too high to respect the 1997 decision requiring the monthly plenary sessions to take place in Strasbourg. Since mid-April, the European Parliament has embraced remote working, holding its meetings and plenary session by teleconference.
Manfred Weber, the German MEP and chair of the European Peoples Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament, welcomed the decision to resume the Strasbourg sessions when speaking with POLITICO earlier this week. While he praised the European Parliament for being the only parliament in Europe that has allowed its members to vote digitally, thereby ensuring they did not need to travel, he cautioned that, “parliamentarianism lives from looking people in the eye, holding talks, negotiating. That means meeting physically”. The EPP group took to Twitter yesterday urging an agreement on the EU’s long-term budget and the COVID-19 recovery package before the summer.
However, not all of the EPP MEPs agree with the September deadline. The Irish MEP Sean Kelly, warned that September was too soon for a return to Strasbourg. Meanwhile the Polish EPP MEP, Danuta Hubner remained cautious, telling The Parliament Magazine, “I do not believe anybody knows today what September will bring”. The European Parliament press service has since confirmed that the Parliament will return to Strasbourg only once the sanitary conditions are suitable and the suitable accommodation is secured for those attending the sessions.
As of yet, not formal decision has been made to resume the Strasbourg sessions. Whatever the outcome, any decision will likely re-open the long-standing debate on whether the Parliament should continue sitting in Strasbourg. According to a European Court of Auditors’ report, the total expenditure associated with the Strasbourg seat amounts to €109 million annually and a further saving of €5 million would come from reduced travel expenses in the European budget.
The final Brussels plenary before the summer break will take place next week. It is expected that the deficit in Strasbourg sessions will necessitate an extra session in the French city later this year.